Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Hood

We’re all apparently trending towards living in hoods these days. Back in the day a hood was a shady sort of gangster, or a thing that monks wore to keep their gods in their heads, or the bonnet of a car. These days it’s the area around where you and your neighbours live. It used to be a “neighbour-hood” but in modern cities you don’t know your neighbours, you only know what they look like and what their dogs and kids sound like. The “neighbour-” part has been dropped because it implies that you might be cosy friends with those people behind the vibracrete wall, which most of you are certainly not.
We Kaartmans live in a relatively peaceful yet ‘wild’ corner of Cape Town, with fish eagles and mongooses, the occasional boomslang and even a porcupine or two. We have a lovely if slightly polluted lake and great views of Table Mountain. We have a naval cadet base nearby, a scout camp down the road, and kids on kontiki-rafts enjoying a sort of “anything that floats” amongst the coots, grebes, pelicans and pondweed at least once a year.
It’s the human element that is much more interesting, however, but before I introduce them please note that I recently resolved to try, at least, to abide by one of the precepts that gave my late father a long and happy life.
Dad was always nice to everyone. As he said, you don’t have to like everybody, but you should always be kind, polite, and, if possible, smiley to them. He carried this philosophy to pretty dizzy heights, too – when most of the nation were reeling aghast at the ranting frothies of a fat youth named Julius, my father merely commented, “He’s a good-looking fellow – with an open and an honest face.”
Back to our hood, and my new resolution to be nice. On a rough count our immediate neighbours consist of fourteen adults, fifteen children and fifteen dogs. There are some cats too, and the Nigerians on the corner once had a bullock for a short while.
To the east G and L are saamleefmaats and they each brought three kids into the arrangement. G is a Pink Bulls fan and Saturdays are punctuated by loud roars as G’s hoary favorites decimate teams of feeble Australian and New Zealand wets. G also sings in the shower, “I’m forever blowing bubbles” – I kid you not – in a fairly tuneful baritone. The kids are sweet and usually pretty quiet. Sometimes they play tag on their roof which makes our dogs bark and their grandmothers blanch. I have to say that we like them as neighbours, especially now that they often shut their three very noisy hounds inside at night.
Next to G and L lives M, with tenants in the lower flat, and the only time we notice them at all is when red-wing starlings pinch dates off their palm tree and try to bash them open on our roof – with loud knocking noises that make our dogs bark.
Behind us used to live Tawoo and his big sister – at least it sounded like ‘Tawoo’. Tawoo was very small, four-ish I guess, and Big Sister bossed him unmercifully. She was strongly accented, as in “Deddie, Ta-woo’s takinawf his bayther!” They made lots of noise but we loved ’em even if their dulcet shouts made our dogs bark. They’ve moved away, and we miss the accents.
Across the road lives a family with a lodger and three dogs. These foul mutts bark continuously all day while Mom n Pop are at work; they often make our dogs bark. I’ve learned to ignore them most of the time, and I feel great sympathy for Mom who, whenever we meet her on the lakeside while walking our collection of mutts, is always suffering from some or other dire, life-threatening medical condition. It’s a shame.

Our real challenge, however, lies to the west of us. There’s a mom and three daughters, and I smile and wave at all of them and the mom smiles and waves back. They often lock their dogs outside their back door, where the pooches yap and yap and yap, but I discovered that by sneaking up and popping a blown-up paper bag on our side of the wall I could teach them to shut up. Now if the pups start yapping I merely clap my hands. This also shuts up my dogs and sees off raiding hadedas, who flee our narrow, high-walled garden with frantic clapping wings and raucous cries. Mom, daughters, dogs and hadedas I have learned to live with, and I can be kind and nice to all.
But wait – there is also a son. When he was a small boy we were pretty unaware of him – about once a year he’d kick a soccer ball over the wall and come and ask to retrieve it. Then he turned 14 and discovered pop music.
Now, we too have had our own kids. We survived their adolescence, and doubtless our neighbours also had to put up with smashing pumpkins and counting crows, but we kept them under control when we could. Billy, as I shall call the neighbour’s child, moved smoothly from very-loud abba-abba bubble-gum to very-loud rap. By the time our youngest was trying to swot for his matric we were moved to complain on a regular basis. Billy’s tastes moved into that genre of rap music and heavy-ish metal that tries, in every song, to win the world record for lyrics that squeeze in the most ‘fuck’ words (and all its variants).
The saddest thing about the ‘F’ word is that the only people who are permanently fascinated, amused, aroused, delighted and infatuated with it are all aged 12 to 14. The rest of us just use it or not, as an occasionally-necessary word. We’re irritated when it’s beeped out on TV programmes. We hardly notice it in literature or the Mail & Guardian, though are surprised to read it in the daily press or to hear it on the radio. We prefer not to hear it used by small children and are probably only amused by it when it’s used by 85-year old grannies with blue rinses and smiley wrinkles.
Billy’s family used to have a dog called Frankie; they were all forever beseeching the barking Frankie to desist. They also have a parrot. Frankie died of old age but the parrot lives on, and for years has entertained us with its accurate rendition of “Fuck off, Frankie!”.
Billy reached about 16 after two years of loud “fuck” rap and degenerated into something I think is called Techno. There’s House and Garage and Bathroom too, for all I know. Billy dropped the “fuck” and the rap – indeed, the lyrics altogether – and reverted to a rapid drumbeat that never varied and that he would play for up to four hours without stopping. 
If you’ve ever come across a three-year old with a tin drum you’ll know what I mean. They’ll bang it incessantly with a little wooden drumstick, until you have to smack them to stop. Billy is now about 26 and ten years on the drumbeat still hasn’t varied; nor has Billy developed in any way whatsoever since he was 16. We frequently smell the smoke of burning substances in the middle of the night, and their nature we can only wildly guess at, but I would not have associated these with Billy if his mother hadn’t told us. His hairstyle changes a bit and he’s probably a little taller. After hundreds of complaints his nice mother gave us his cell number; now when we want peace and quiet we merely SMS “shut window please” and the endless, inane drumming stops.
Then came the news that Billy and fam were moving out. Sadly, Billy reacted like any typical three-year old by playing his stuff at full bore. After two hours we sent the SMS. The reply was, well, quite rude; in it I was informed by this 26-year old child, who has never held down a job nor studied anything beyond whatever school Grade nor kept the garden clean for his mother in his endless free time that I am “a waste”. We’re very grateful for this bon mot – it has given the family lexicon a nice new phrase, as in, “Ag, you’re just a waste!”

I’ve got over Billy; my new resolution to be nice has firmly kicked in. As ultimate evidence of my sincerity in this I have decided that, on the day he moves out, I will send Billy a nice, kind SMS. It will say, no more, no less, than simply, “bye bye”.

Kaartman, May 24; happy birthday, Jules!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Wildlife Blog

Just returned from a great trip to Wildest Afrika. My dear Mama always reckoned that the Bundu starts at Bellville – well, she might have been right, tho’ Barrydale could be a stronger contender these days. 

Whatever, the State of the Roads is probably the best bundu indicator. Before you take up Marthinus van Schalkie’s offer of a great holiday in your own country a brief assessment of the roads in different areas wouldn’t do you any harm. We set off from Ceres [why Ceres? – another story] on a grey chilly morning; at Ashton we took an impetuous decision to take the Klein-Karoo route to PeeEee. A good decision, apparently, when we heard that the N2 was stiff with rygo’s – you know, “Delay: 40 minutes. Thank you for your patience.”
This log was swimming in the St Lucia Estuary ...
You can get an enormous and only partly-digestible vetkoek-and-mince roll at a farmstall near Holgate [dunno if that’s “Holl-gate” as in English, or “hollow holes” as in Afrikaans], just short of the N12/N9 junction, which saves you having to stop in Oudtshoorn. It’s also the last take-away stop until Joubertina, apparently. Or Louterwater. Or Noll’s Halt. Or anywhere.

The roads were great until Misgund, which has nothing to do with manure, but means “begrudged” or “denied”. The reason for the name is impenetrably obscure, but it’s where the Eastern Cape and the slightly-worse roads begin. The Langkloof road steadily deteriorates as the speed-limit drops from 120 to 100 to 80 in inverse proportion to the number of potholes, until at last you emerge onto the N2 and you thank Sanral, toll-roads or not, for relatively decent pothole maintenance.
Top left: Duckface. Top right: Don’t call me ‘Duckface’.
Bottom left: A haunch of camelopard: bad tie-dying
Bottom right: Oxpeckers resting after a rough night out.
Fortunately the N2 neatly bypasses PeeEee; the next destination of choice is the Nanaga interchange [should have a “c”-click in there; it seems to mean something about breast-feeding]. Breast-feeding is not necessary at Nanaga as it’s the site of the famous PIE SHOP. A steady stream of traffic cops, police officers and cabinet ministers of both sexes were seen waddling out of the Pie Shop as we approached, giving rise to a new family expression: “pieman” or “piewoman”, for men and women who, though clearly not breast-feeding, might well be several months pregnant. With sextuplets.
Clockwise from top left:
Crowned crane, Wakkerstroom; Grey heron, St Lucia;
Pale chanting goshawk, Graaf-Reinet;
Trumpetter hornbill, Cape Vidal
Fortunately the N2 neatly bypasses Grahamstown: happily, you catch scarcely a glimpse of those ancient spires. Up the hill, past the enormous township, you reach the turn-off to Fort England, and here’s a tip you should take to heart. There are two ways to Kokstad from here: the N2, which fortunately neatly bypasses East London but goes right through the middle of Butterworth, and other unmentionable rubbish dumps, before zipping past Chez Madiba and descending deeply into Mthatha. From here it’s a constipated choke of too many goats and endless rygo’s.

The other way – Fort England/Queenstown/Lady Frere [don’t take the Dordrecht loop – turn right to Lady F] and on to Ugie, Maclear, Matatiele is only 25km further to Kokstad than the N2, and mebbe 30 minutes longer depending on the rygo’s and the goats. It’s a spectacularly beautiful road, mostly in good shape excepting about 10km near Lady Frere, with no huge trucks and hardly any cars [or even taxis] at all.
As above:
Portrait of a Lady: a white rhino ...
Gnus don’t have walls to bang their heads against, so ...
Zebras are reactionary ...
Warthogs are darn scary, specially redheads ...
And then you reach the South Coast, happily bypassed in its entirety by the N2. Fortunately the N2 also neatly bypasses Durban, but enters a region of successive toll-plazas, each one more expensive than the last. After three days on the road you reach Mtubatuba, which you should definitely avoid at all costs, then turn off to St Lucia, where nirvana awaits you.
You always get the feeling that something’s
watching you, when these guys are around
Well, nirvana would have awaited us if it hadn’t been pouring with rain and the damn hippos hadn’t kept us awake grunting and snarling all night, but the next day the weather cleared and we had a great time, walking beaches, chugging around lagoons in boats, stepping over crocs and generally keeping a weather-eye open for bad-tempered seacows.

On the fifth day we visited Imfolozi Game Reserve, a singularly beautiful bit of Northern KZN which resides down a very bad road from St L. It was here we discovered that KZN has the second-worst roads in RSA, as well as indifferent gate-guards at the reserve. Once in, however, we enjoyed a paradise of rhinos, impalas, giraffes, gnus, warthogs and zebras, but the much-advertised elephants were on leave for the day, resting up in their bushy hollows, so none were seen. Our travelling companions – we’ll call them Jughead and Veronica – were great company and a big help in game-spotting, though Jughead pronounced himself uitgewild by the end of the day and we returned to St L for pizza and a welcome game of cards.
Left: Bad advertising
Top Right: ‘Blacksmith plover, get lost.’
Bottom right: ‘Black-winged plover, get lost.’
There’s a pizza emporium in St L that has a resident live singer/guitar player and he’s pretty good. Humming “Bobby McGee” we set off to Cape Vidal, another lekker plekkie if a bit windy, swarming with waterbuck, baboons, samango monkeys and even a couple of interesting birds. Like plovers.

The road north continued to deteriorate rapidly until we reached the Swaziland border at Golele, where after a brief 1km detour the road became absolutely superb and, with few exceptions, remained that way throughout our stay.
Anyone would’ve thought it was springtime ...
these happy couples were spotted at St Lucia
In Swaziland you are not allowed to say anything nasty about the king. You are not allowed to call him a fat, overweight slug, a philanderer and child-rapist, a megalomaniac dictatorial leech upon the poverty-stricken citizens of his country or anything like that, so I won’t. We bought candles, walked, slept, stroked some lekker Rosecraft mohair – – and took a superb road to Piet Retief, where the roads instantly became the worst of all. It’s in Mpumalanga, you know. One big pothole.

To reach Bethlehem you need to cross from Volksrust to Vrede; inexplicably, the only way to get there is down the worst dirt road you ever, ever saw, and it’s been like that for over forty years. You hope for better things at Vrede, but the Free State has the third-worst roads in RSA, where again the only good ones are Sanral’s.
No essay on Wildlife would be complete without a couple
of primates: clockwise from top left, at
Graaf-Reinet; at St Lucia; at Imfolozi.
From Bethlehem we travelled to Graaf-Reinet, and on via Beaufort-West back to Ceres. From the twilight shadows over the Great-Karoo, the sculpted folds of the hills north of the Camdeboo; the great plains of the Free State and the misty swamps of the Eastern Shores; the green, green slopes of KZN, the white sandstone bluffs of the Winterberg, the dark, lovely valley bushveld and deep winding rivers of the Eastern Cape, and everything you can ever think of in the Western Cape – jissie, maar ons land is asemrowend skoon. Its loveliness just makes you ache all over ...

Kaartman, May 2012